Anam Cara: Soul Friends
By Jeremy Schurke
Director of Mirror Labs
I’ll be upfront with you; currently one of my greatest desires is to live in a deeper, spiritual community. In fact, I find myself often dreaming about deeper friendships and how to achieve them.
It’s a complex challenge to solve: I am 35 years old, married, and we have 3 children with a 4thon the way. The financial pressures, as well as my “dad bod,” are rapidly increasing with each little addition to our family. My career path is still mysteriously unfolding, and I am left without a lot of time and space for myself—let alone deeper friendship.
As Millennial men, deep friendships seem to be particularly challenging. Statistically, we are more isolated, lonely, and depressed than previous generations of men. (Perhaps some of that can be chalked up to that we’re just more honest about our struggles?) Last year seemed to only expedite and exploit our material shortcomings and inner longings.
I realized recently I’ve been relying on the two types of friendship I have: older but distant friendships, and newer but shallower ones here in Orlando. But I recognize that in order to function better, to love deeper, and to keep my sanity, I really need close spiritual friendships.
The Celtics had a phrase for this relational need: anam is the Gaelic word for soul and cara is the word for friend. A person who acted as a vital companion and spiritual guide in the early Celtic church was referred to as—you guessed it—an anam cara.
This was someone to whom you would share the hidden intimacies of your life. Your secret thoughts, your greatest desires, and your ugliest parts were all welcome. To have a friend of your soul was to awaken belonging, foster deep healing, and grow true affection.
This notion of soul friends transcends the limited dualistic view of “platonic” or “romantic” relationships. Thank God! I think sometimes our new reality of wearing physical masks is a symbolic manifestation of how we present ourselves in social circles. I have to believe that we all desire to have friendships where we can remove the pretenses, superficialities, and half-truths that we present about ourselves on repeat.
I would love to develop new friendships that foster understanding, trust, and belonging. To experience the love and care of a friend who helps illuminate my true identity, map out the next steps of my earthly journey, and allows me to discover the real joy of deep, unified community.
For this, I’d only have one requirement: that we’d be mutually committed to purposeful, present friendship. In other words, I’m “in” as much as they’re willing to be “in.” I’m tired of settling for mere acquaintanceships born out of convenience. Instead, I want to commit myself to cultivating a deeper experience of friendship, where our honesty is matched by our intentional effort.
I mean, when was the last time you stated to someone else you wanted to make a social covenant with them to develop a deeper friendship? Maybe to you, this prospect sounds at best awkward and at worst disturbing. For all of us, I’d bet, it certainly sounds foreign. I know I’ve never done it, but… why not? New year new me. Maybe it’s time for us to get weird and try some new things!
In Emerson’s Essays and Lectures, he wrote, “I do not wish to treat friendships daintily, but with roughest courage. When they are real, they are not glass threads or frost-work, but the solidest thing we know.”
Getting real with other men takes “roughest courage,” but the risks of not having this kind of friendship are too great. I’m convinced the lack of soul friendship between men has produced the seeds of division, oppression, rage, and greed we are witnessing today.
Aristotle, in Magna Moralia, uses the metaphor of friendship as a mirror—that a virtuous friend is like a “second self” in that he allows one to see one’s self more clearly and accurately. Without an anam cara, there is no mirror to reflect the truest part of our souls. Without that mirror, we may end up avoiding our fears, lying to cover our shame, and spiraling out of control with a false view of ourselves and our lives.
So how can we foster an anam cara relationship in 2021? Here’s what I am doing, starting tonight, in my driveway.In Emerson's Essays and Lectures, he wrote, 'I do not wish to treat friendships daintily, but with roughest courage. When they are real, they are not glass threads or frost-work, but the solidest thing we know.'Click To Tweet
I invited several guys over and told them ahead of time that we are going to perform a life “reset” together.
First, we are going to take several weeks and evaluate the current status of our lives in these five core categories: health, family, relationships, vocation, and soul. Our bodies are temples that deserve care and attention. Our childhood experiences shape much of our values, norms, and wounds. We have core relational needs to prioritize and pursue. We have the responsibility to choose how we dedicate our time and life’s work. And finally, all of these categories are predicated on the foundational transcendent beliefs we uphold and seek out.
I am going to provide the guys with weekly prompts related to the categories so we can slow down, reflect, and journal our answers before meeting up. This will give each of us the opportunity to do the necessary soul searching needed to engage in conversations of depth. After the initial few meetups, sharing and discussing our answers, we will collectively decide how to proceed. The main goal is to begin building the foundation necessary to become anam cara to each other. It’s definitely not rocket science, and I’m sure I’ll learn as I go, but here’s the simple overview:
Step 1: Gather men who want to develop deeper friendships with other men.
Step 2: Honestly assess who you are and where you’re headed.
Step 3: Collectively, course correct toward your desired outcomes.
Step 4: Pick an anam cara to walk with you.
Although I believe everyone wants a soul friend or two, I’m not under the illusion that everyone is ready for the kind of commitment it takes to get there. However, the truth is we live in a society that is desperate for deeper friendships. Literally every guy I have spoken to about it has affirmed the same desire and need in their own life. For too long, we have been lulled to sleep by extreme comfort, digital entertainment, and shallow friendships. Soul friends awaken our lives to new possibilities of a more meaningful human experience.
My hope is that the questions we think through and discuss over the next weeks will provide the starting point to us becoming the “mirrors” that help us know ourselves and grow, but I know that ultimately, it’s the participants’ responsibility—and privilege—to decide how much of their souls they want to reveal.
If this desire for intentional spiritual friendship resonates with you, ask yourself: How much of your soul are you willing to reveal to develop deep, spiritual friendships this year? Will you devote time to it and make space for it? How do you think it will impact your discipleship journey?
C.S. Lewis wrote, “Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art, like the universe itself (for God did not need to create). It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.”
THE BIG IDEA: True friendship gives meaning to our human experience. May God give us the courage to seek out an anam cara.